November is the primary month for Midwest whitetails to engage in their mating cycle, often called the rut. What phase of rut they are in at any given point during that month is widely debated among hunters and biologists.
Talk to hunters or watch outdoor shows in November and you will hear a plethora of terms. “Early stages of pre rut; peak rut; lockdown; post rut,” are all terms used to describe the activity of deer during their mating season. How this phase of the breeding cycle came to be called “rut” is a bit confusing, since rut can be described as, “a habit or pattern of behavior that has become dull and unproductive but is hard to change.” This certainly does not define deer behavior during the rut.
During phases of the rut, whether it is pre rut, rut or post rut, deer are anything but dull and unproductive. Bucks are on the move at this time of year more than any other and may lose an estimated 25% of their body weight. Their behavior is often unpredictable, changing with a whim and a whiff of estrus in the air.
The origin of the word “rut” comes from old French (rute) and English (route) combined in late 16th century into rut. Latin origins are from rugire, which means to roar. Stags roar and elk bugle. Both are in the same family (cervid) as our white-tailed deer. This origin provides some sense as to how the deer mating cycle came to be called rut.
Catch a cruising buck searching for an estrus doe during this time of year and he will be more susceptible to the allure of rattling antlers and grunt calls than any other time. Combine these techniques with a decoy and the results can be spectacular. We have had our decoys blasted into pieces by the attack of a rutting buck determined to destroy a rival. We have hastily repaired them with duct tape and spray paint, and returned to the hunt only to have them attacked again before the paint dries.
When bucks are in a rut phase they have one thing on their mind. We once watched two bucks fight over an estrus doe, knocking down small trees and tearing up the hillside as they battled for half an hour just out of bow range. Big bucks seem to be able to pinpoint the location of rattling and calling within just a few feet of the source. Bucks come running and skid to a halt at the base of the tree, searching for the sounds of the mock fight.
No matter what you call it, if your deer are in a rut phase, it’s time to be in the field hunting.